15 February 2013

Next C-123 Veterans' Meeting Set with VA Executives - February 28

The Director of Compensation Services for the VA's Benefits Administration, kindly offered an opportunity to visit with him and discuss C-123 veterans' concerns about Agent Orange exposure and claims for Agent Orange-type illnesses.

Set for February 28 at his office, we hope to gain a firmer understanding of just how much proof the VA will require for our C-123 aircrews, maintenance and aerial port personnel to present before we meet the VA's "as likely to as not" threshold. The rules are that the veteran gets the benefit of the doubt, but it feels like our initial inquiries were met with a knee-jerk refusal, and that has been the defensive position of the VA ever since.

"Exposure" seems to be the big issue between the parties. We need to get the VA to specify just how much exposure, because the law doesn't address "how much." Neither does it address what kind, etc. If the VA will spell out their requirements beyond that specified in the law, that will give us a target for our continued efforts. Right now, it seems whatever we offer is short of the mark, regardless of the agency of federal government, the qualifications of the scientists or physicians...each piece of proof we present fails to add up to enough to warrant "service connection."

At least, that is the situation at the VA. Once claims are denied and reach the Board of Veterans Affairs the decisions are made in favor of the C-123 veterans, but that wastes years of additional waiting. We don't have those years, so it would be nice to ask Compensation and Pension to give us a formula the VA will accept, however demanding it might be, so that our claims won't be automatically denied. VA promises each claim will be evaluated individually, but we note that they are then denied individually as well, regardless of the weight of evidence presented.

My week in Washington includes meetings with other federal agencies which have already reviewed the situation and offered their opinions confirming C-123 veterans' exposure, and perhaps with the Joint Services Records Research Center in Alexandria to see if they have made progress on evaluating the Air Force documents dealing with the aircraft contamination. Several of the national veterans organizations have invited me to discuss the aircraft contamination, and our hope is more national resolutions to join with those already passed by the Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Legion. Two national groups will be presenting resolutions to their membership at conventions this summer. Thanks, brothers!

And no visit to DC goes well without a visit to our senators' and congresswoman's office to thank them for their tireless support.

At the very least, once the week concludes, it will have been pleasant to have met the executives assigned to disapprove our claims with their "Not on my watch" denial.

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